Thursday, February 12, 2009

Augustine and Calvin v. Classical Liberals

Brief excerpt from Deneen's musings on Lincoln.

...Nevertheless, there is also profound tension and even outright disagreement between the liberalism of Locke and Madison, on the one hand, and Augustinianism in its various forms, on the other. Liberals begin by assuming that government, and politics generally, is an unnatural condition; Calvin, by contrast, does not. Liberals advance the ideal of our equal natural liberty; Augustinians and Calvinists instead stress our equal subordination, our status as brothers and sisters under a common Father. Liberals posit that self-interest can be channeled productively for the greater good of society and thus need not be restrained; Augustinians seek not only to “abridge” self-interest and reprimand the inclination to concentrate upon the “self” in general, but reject individualism and individual autonomy as an ideal of human life. Liberals regard justice as the highest and an achievable political ideal; Augustinians regard love – caritas, or “charity” – as the highest yet likely unachievable ideal, and justice as an imperfect and second-best approximation of love. Liberals believe that religion is a source of strife and division and is therefore best left to the individual conscience in the private sphere; Augustinians regard both the public and private spheres as ultimately subordinate to divine law, and therefore eschew a simple division between religion and State, although, at the same time, resist the notion that theocracy or a full mixing of the sacred and profane would be in any way desirable (mostly because this would draw religion too fully within the sphere of the political and too deeply immerse it in inessential considerations that are best left to temporal powers). If, according to one approach, Lincoln begins his career as a secular liberal but ends on a note of somber Augustinianism, might we conclude that there is a fundamental break in his thought and a contradiction between his early and late articulations?

For the answer, read the essay yourself...

1 comment:

Steve Burri said...

Excellent article.

Thanks for the link.